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Getting started with permaculture zones

 
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Permaculture Zones

Are you familiar with permaculture zones? Have you designed your property with these zones in mind? Using permaculture zones can help you place each element (garden, chickens, fruit trees, etc.) in the best spot to make the most out of interaction between elements all while saving you time and energy.

But if you are not familiar with permaculture zones then an overview might be what you need to get started. This week's blog post is all about providing you with what you need to get started with permaculture zones.

If you are already using permaculture zones on your property please leave a reply with how you have setup the zones on your property.

Basic Idea Behind Permaculture Zones



Often permaculture zones are shown as concentric circles like the rings on a tree moving out from a central point (often a house or other structure). But as you can see in the above image showing the general zone layout for my homestead you can mix up the zones to better fit your own property.

In general permaculture zones are broken up into 5 different zones. Some people add additional zones to this but to keep it simple I'm just sticking with the original 5.

The basic idea is that elements that need your attention the most (kitchen garden for example) are placed in the lower zones (zone 1 for the kitchen garden) and elements that don't need your attention are placed in the higher zones with zone 5 being reserved for wilderness.

The blog post covers each zone in detail so please check it out to dive further into each of the zones and the type of uses that are appropriate in each.

I'm curious--how many zones do you have on your property?



Please leave a comment with why your design ended up the way it did.

Permaculture Design



Permaculture zones are just one part of permaculture design. Beyond zones there is also the sector analysis and of course all the individual projects such as swales, ponds, kitchen gardens, etc. How far have you gone in your permaculture design?

If you are just getting started or need a refresher then make sure to Check out the blog post for more information including steps to get started with using permaculture zones.

But my general recommendation is to use google maps to get a screenshot of your property. If you paste that screenshot into word, paint, or some other program you can draw on it. Draw the extent of the zones on the map. That is what I did to make the image showing the zones on my property. Of course you can also sketch out your property by hand if you want.

Once you have the zones drawn on the map take a moment to make a list of the elements you have and want to have in the future on your property. Mark which zone these go in and add them to the map. Think about if you have enough space in each zone and think about if you have enough time to manage them all.

One tip: if your life is already very busy consider having more zone 3 (or even 4) than zone 1 and 2. This way you can focus on perennial based food systems that won't need as much regular attention. Later if your schedule changes you can expand your zone 1 and 2. Remember, the higher zones don't have to be far away.

Please leave a comment answering the early questions and if you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

Thanks for reading this post and please don't forget to check out this week's blog post.
 
master pollinator
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The intention for our 20 acres is that most of it will be Zone 5, but technically it is Zone 4 because it is undergoing restoration and is not truly "wild".  We're only developing about an acre for human use, the rest is for everyone else.
 
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All of my acre has been modified by humans, so technically has no Zone 5.  However, a good third is riparian and can't have structures, raised beds, tilling, or any big modifications.   Another section is very hilly, and has only received some terracing, flower bulb plantings, and brush removal... maybe minimal tree/bush planting eventually.  So I guess I like to think of zone 4+ as an area which you can't build on, till, or mow.
 
Daron Williams
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Tyler Ludens wrote:The intention for our 20 acres is that most of it will be Zone 5, but technically it is Zone 4 because it is undergoing restoration and is not truly "wild".  We're only developing about an acre for human use, the rest is for everyone else.



Nice, have you thought about adding specific native plants to your wild area? Say plants that are rare in your area or edible for humans? I keep debating with myself about what to do with the far north corner of my property that is furthest away from my house. It is zone 4 but I have wanted to transition it to zone 5 overtime. But I have also been thinking about designing it to be a native plant food forest and keeping it as a zone 4 where I would harvest occasionally but it would see only minimal management. I thought it would be an interesting type of "feature" to have to show people and help educate them on the native edibles in this area. What do you think?

Thanks for the comment!
 
Daron Williams
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Josh Garbo wrote:All of my acre has been modified by humans, so technically has no Zone 5.  However, a good third is riparian and can't have structures, raised beds, tilling, or any big modifications.   Another section is very hilly, and has only received some terracing, flower bulb plantings, and brush removal... maybe minimal tree/bush planting eventually.  So I guess I like to think of zone 4+ as an area which you can't build on, till, or mow.



That makes sense -- one thing to consider is that some of these buffer areas can still have limited use. I'm using my wetland buffer to establish willows which I will harvest (lightly) in the future when I want to make willow water to help get cuttings from other plants to root. There are a number of edible native wetland plants like cattails that I'm also thinking about establishing and harvesting in the future. Riparian could be harder to do this than wetlands but just something to think about. As long as you were careful not to harvest too much or use intensive methods to plant them I doubt anyone would ever care.

Thanks for sharing!
 
Josh Garbo
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Thanks Daron -  the problem with cattails is it floods real bad and washes everything out that's not tied down.  I'm putting black willow and elderberry in, with some other varieties coming in too.  Lots of natural skunk cabbage.  I think cattails will need some kind of chain link structure to hold them from washing away.
 
Daron Williams
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Nice - that sounds like a good solution. You might try adding some rocks in to create some small catchment areas where sediment can build up. Could help plants get established too.
 
Josh Garbo
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Actually I'm trying to put in two small (10x10 ft) ponds, which may support cat-tails.  One is in a very low spot, and may help drain a swampy section and allow more groundcover to establish.  One is in a very high/dry spot, so it may need irrigation pipe run up to it, fed occasionally by well-water.
 
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First I'd like to thank Daron for his "real world example" of zones. Too often they're shown as nice convenient circles around the house and I know *many* properties, particularly my own, where that's just not possible no matter how much I wish it was!

If this is a close definition of Zone 5 "zone 5 is the wild lands that you donโ€™t manage for production." (From the blog write-up) We need to remember that there is little to no land in North America which has not been either impacted by First Nations People using fire and selective encouragement of useful plants, or by the current occupants. (Where I am, false camas was pulled when seen as it was poisonous and the edible camas (Camassia quamash) was encouraged and protected, but it wasn't recognized exactly as "farming". The entire peninsula I'm on has been logged at least once, if not more than that even though I've got 100 year old trees to the east of my house.) Much of what the First Nations people did has been ignored or worse, ridiculed, which for example, is now contributing to wild-fire issues in parts of the Rockies. So Zone 5 doesn't have to look like old growth forest to be useful habitat for non-domesticated plants and animals, nor should one feel that you can't do some things to support polyculture and healthy disturbance in Zone 5. I think it's more the mind-set - in Zone 5 nature's needs trump man's needs, not the other way around.
 
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I only have a large city lot to work with but we are allowed a small amount of chickens and bees. But i can still create 3 zones in this space.
 
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Daron, as usual, this is a great thread and it's got me thinking about our new property and how to fit all five zones in. Most of our 11.5 acres is second generation evergreen forest. We are doing a lot of thinning of the tall, skinny trees that can't survive long but add to the fire danger. Our goal is to bring the balance back to something like a mature zone 5 forest. We already have the wildlife but the trees are not healthy and are a fire hazard.

Our current plan is to have zones 1-4 take up 1-2 acres near the house, incorporating some of the forest for cultivation of forest herbs so they will be visited more often but pretty much left alone. The land is flat so we'll need to build up to create some texture to the land.

A friend of mine is a landscape designer from Silicon valley area that I got hooked on permaculture last year. She will be visiting us this spring to incorporate her designs with permaculture principles for the area near our house. Her goal is to start incorporating permaculture in her designs for clients and hopes to use our property as a test bed. We will be documenting the process and taking a lot of pictures along the way. It should be a lot of fun exchanging ideas and coming up with a plan.
 
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The google overlay for our 11 acres shows nothing but trees.  Currently we have Zone 1 and Zone 5.  Zone 1 is where we are building the house, garage/workshop, and smoker/bbq shelter.  We have picked out a site for a hugulculture garden area that we will eventually expand.  There is an area down slope on the eastern third of the property that will make a good pond site.  The ground slopes down from the east and the south in that location, and you can see where the runoff goes into that area when it rains.

Currently we are bringing in fallen trees in varying stages of decay to put in the area where our hugulculture beds are going to be.  There are a lot of downed trees on the property, and this is a better use for them than a burn pile.  Prevailing winds come from S/SW, so our future chicken coop and rabbit hutch will be located just NW of the house.  Close enough to tend to easily, but upwind of the house!  Also close to the hugulculture beds and the compost pile.

I've planted some blackberries on the South side of the property in the bare 30 feet between the tree line and the road.  They will get plenty of sun there.  I've selected a spot in the empty 60 feet between the road and the tree line near the SE corner of the property to plant several apple trees.  The water from the road ditch flows into a natural drainage on the SE corner of the property.  It drains pretty quickly, but the area doesn't get as dry during extended summer heat as other parts of the property.  The trees bordering the area are oak, hickory, wild cherry, and birch.  It also has a southern exposure with full sun.  I like the idea of using the margins where there is already sun better than cutting down a bunch of trees in the middle of the property to plant fruit trees.

We don't plan on cutting down any more trees than absolutely necessary.  Our hugulculture bed area, by virtue of cutting down trees to create a house site, has a southern exposure and gets plenty of sun.  I put up a couple poles the height of the house to see where the sun casts it shadow during the spring, summer, and fall to make sure that the house won't be blocking sun from the garden.  We are in good shape there.  Rather than cutting down more trees to create garden, we plan on creating a forest garden with shade tolerant plants as much as possible.  We like the idea of working with the land and living in harmony with it.  As my wife told my step sister and her husband, if we had wanted cleared ground, we would have bought cleared ground.  We like the woods.

I did go to www.mytopo.com and purchase a topographic map of the area, then drew out our property on it.  
 
Tyler Ludens
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Daron Williams wrote:
Nice, have you thought about adding specific native plants to your wild area? Say plants that are rare in your area or edible for humans?



Thank you, yes, I am reintroducing as many native plants as possible, including native edibles, in which I've always been interested.  Most of the "homestead" acre is fenced against deer (finally!) and native plants are thriving.  It's quite wonderful to see what the whole place might look like if we had an appropriate number of deer instead of massive herds of Whitetail and exotic Axis deer, who are eating everything.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

It's quite wonderful to see what the whole place might look like if we had an appropriate number of deer instead of massive herds of Whitetail and exotic Axis deer, who are eating everything.

This is soooo... true. Someone introduced a non-native deer on an Island near my home when hunting was popular. With the only predator (cougars) eliminated, there was nothing to keep the deer in balance and it was destroying the native flora. They arranged for a cull, and felt the responsible way was to hire a portable abattoir so the meat would be put to good use. The first time they culled, the butcher said the animals were so emaciated that the meat was worth nothing. They arranged for a second cull 8 mnths later, and that time both the Meat Inspector and the Butcher said that 98% of the deer were healthy and salable. After several years, improvement in the flora was so obvious, one of the local National Parks started participating. Because this is an introduced, rather than a native deer, they're not getting too much flack from locals, although this is a generally a huge problem in our area. It is *all* about balance. In small areas, some human intervention may be essential to re-balance things, but the key is to do things slowly and carefully. Eliminating *all* the deer, could be equally problematic. Allowing the return of cougars is *really* unpopular, so humans must do the cougar's job (apologies to Sepp Holzer and his pigs.)

I believe we're seeing a similar re-balancing in my sister's neighborhood now that we have hawks preying on the squirrels. I saw it happen in my area when some Owls moved in and decided baby robins tasted good. The robins are still around, but they have lost their bold, "we own this place" attitude which was really starting to bug me!

This is all nature at its best and worst, but having wild zones and properties with no herbicides/pesticides etc that are helping it happen.
 
Daron Williams
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Josh โ€“ Sounds great. Cattails will tend to fill in an area if they are planted there but are a great edible wild plant.

Jay โ€“ Thank you ๐Ÿ˜Š I thought about that classic example and figured I would just use my own place instead. I agree fully with your comments about zone 5. I was trying to balance the classic permaculture approach towards zone 5 and my own view that some use of that zone is fine. I like what you said at the end โ€œin Zone 5 natureโ€™s needs trump manโ€™s needs, not the other way around.โ€

Janeen โ€“ I think stopping at zone 3 in your situation makes a lot of sense. Zone 4/5 just does not make much sense on a small lot. Even stopping at zone 2 could work in some situations.

Robin โ€“ Thanks ๐Ÿ˜Š Yeah, there are a lot of those 2nd gen forests out there. Most could use some thinning to bring them back to a healthier state.

Your plan for your property sounds great and I think adding some texture would be a good thing. You might want to consider adding some low canopy deciduous plants to the forest. Nothing that would help a fire jump to the canopy of the bigger trees (could limb them up a bit). Getting more deciduous plants could help build up a nice leaf litter which should hold more moisture and help minimize fire risk.

Balancing the fire risk is a challenge but if you can do things that hold more moisture that should help.

Good job on getting your friend hooked on permaculture! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Bob โ€“ Sounds like you have a good plan for your site. Yeah, google does not work as well for lots that are covered in trees. A topo map like you mentioned is a better choice in that situation.

Good call on locating the chickens and rabbits upwind of the house.

Thanks for sharing your design thoughts!

Tyler โ€“ Awesome! ๐Ÿ˜Š I had to fence my place to keep deer out. Just too much browse to get anything established otherwise.

Jay โ€“ Thanks for sharing that story about the deer! I have heard similar stories from other areas. There are just too many of them in a lot of place. And I think about that quote from Sepp Holzer a lotโ€”it seems to apply to a lot of situations.

Thanks all for sharing!
 
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